The Tower of the Bear [Amazon link] is the point at which Fenton Wood’s Yankee Republic series veers into epic territory. Philo’s adventures from this point don’t just reference myth and legend; they become them.
After Philo and Viridios staved off the incipient ice age in the last volume, Philo now must turn to the task of completing the work of Zaros the Electromage in order to build a new transmitter for Radio 2XG. The terrible winter destroyed their stock of custom vacuum tubes needed to power the massive transmitter [also the work of Zaros] that makes 2XG the greatest radio station in the Yankee Republic and beyond.
However, Zaros’ great unfinished work requires a material nearly impossible to acquire in order to function. Thus, Philo will embark on a grand quest, chasing rumors of rumors to find what he needs to build Zaros’ transmitter, and save the radio station he loves. He will travel to the bottom of the sea, cross a continent to find the lost City of the Future, and entertain the richest men in the world with his exploits.
A big part of the fun of this book for me is trying to match up Wood’s fantastical locales with potential real inspirations. I hadn’t heard of Route 30 per se, as I am a Mother Road kind of guy, but it wasn’t too hard to trace out Philo’s journey across the American continent. However, lots of places Philo ends up don’t have physical referents, but rather fictional ones [Amazon link], like Synomosia, where the wealthiest engineers, scientists, and inventors come to escape their burdens.
In what is perhaps my favorite part of the book, when Plutus, the richest man in the world, explains to Philo why the John Galts of the world come here to relax, attempting to create only things that have no practical value; for entry to Synomosia is reserved to those who swear the oath “Non serviam”. But then Plutus laments that their labors of independence and love keep being useful!
Philo laughs at the richest man in the world, and tells him that in the end, everyone serves God’s plan. It was sweet and beautiful and perfect. Even Plutus cannot help but be impressed. The accompanying portrait of great inventors as odd and obsessed and just a touch peculiar is just so. To see further than others is not just to have stood on the shoulders of giants. It is to have an incapacity to let it go.
Philo’s capacity to persuade, rather than overpower those he encounters on his journey is one of the most remarkable aspects of the Yankee Republic series. You could be forgiven for thinking that battle and violence are inextricably tied with adventure fiction, but Wood shows us this isn’t necessarily so. What matters is the sense of wonder.
Philo has many leagues yet to travel, so join me in the next review as Philo crosses the desert in search of the City of the Future.
Other books by Fenton Wood